Beltran matches career high with four hits

NEW YORK (AP) -- Mike Piazza stepped out from the New York Mets'
dugout, waved to the roaring crowd and soaked in a rare curtain call.

For baseball's greatest slugging catcher, the celebrations have been few and far between lately. One big swing got him back in the fans' good graces.

"It felt good," Piazza said with a big smile. "It really did."

Piazza hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the eighth inning and David Wright connected twice to lead the Mets over the Atlanta Braves 6-3 on Thursday night.

Piazza, hitting .260 with 10 homers and 39 RBI, has struggled to produce big hits the past few seasons while dealing with injuries and a failed attempt to move to first base. He came through this time, though, sending an 0-2 pitch from Blaine Boyer over the right field wall.

The homer was Piazza's 388th -- one behind Johnny Bench for 46th on the career list -- and gave him 1,200 career RBI.

"It's weird," Piazza said. "I feel like I've been swinging the bat pretty well. I'm not hitting .350 or anything, but I guess I was lucky the first part of my career. I guess it's catching up to me a little bit."

Carlos Beltran matched a career high with four hits as the Mets beat the Braves for just the third time in 10 meetings. It was the opener of a four-game series between the NL East rivals.

With the score tied at 3, Beltran hit a one-out double in the eighth off reliever Jim Brower (3-2). John Foster followed by walking Cliff Floyd on four pitches. Braves manager Bobby Cox then brought in Boyer to face Piazza.

"You don't want to get beat 0-2 when you've got the hitter in the hole," Cox said. "It was a bad pitch, but it's a pitch that Mike's so strong, he can hit it out."

Roberto Hernandez (5-2) earned the win in relief of starter Kris Benson with one scoreless inning. Braden Looper pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save.

Adam LaRoche homered for the Braves, who have lost three straight after winning a season-high six in a row.

The Mets tied it at 3 in the seventh on Jose Offerman's single -- his sixth hit as a pinch-hitter in nine at-bats. Wright drew a leadoff walk, moved up on Chris Woodward's sacrifice and went to third on Horacio Ramirez's wild pickoff attempt before Offerman's base hit.

"It was a changeup," Ramirez said. "I thought it was a good pitch, but he did the job and hit it in the hole."

In the seventh, Wright made a throwing error on Johnny Estrada's grounder with one out to set up LaRoche's two-run homer -- his 12th -- off Benson that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.

The Braves had a chance to take the lead again in the eighth, but Kelly Johnson popped up a suicide squeeze. Wright made a diving catch near the third base line and tagged the bag for an inning-ending double play.

"I gave a run away the inning before and I knew I had to do something to help the team," Wright said.

It wasn't the only outstanding defensive play by the Mets.

Floyd drew chants of "MVP! MVP!" after he somersaulted into the left field stands to catch Ryan Langerhans' foul fly in the fifth. He ran full stride toward the stands and backhanded the ball just as he hit the wall and fell headfirst into an empty section just in front of the stands.

Third-base umpire Ed Hickox ran down the line, looked in to see if Floyd held onto the ball and signaled for the second out. Floyd, uninjured on the play, also received a standing ovation as he jogged back to the dugout after the inning.

"I had no clue the wall was there," Floyd said. "You get so caught up in catching the ball, you forget the wall is there. I was lucky the wall was low and I'm tall."

Wright put the Mets ahead 1-0 in the second with a solo homer leading off the second and hit another in the fourth to give New York a 2-1 lead. It was his second multihomer game.

"The bat just felt a lot lighter," Wright said. "A few days off with the All-Star break did us all some good."

Benson retired his first 10 batters before Pete Orr's single that just got past a diving Miguel Cairo at second base. Orr stole second and scored on Andruw Jones' RBI single to tie it.

Benson allowed three runs -- two earned -- and five hits in seven innings. He struck out seven.

Ramirez gave up three runs and six hits in seven innings.

"The two home runs to Wright, I think he missed his spots," Cox said. "Other than that, he pitched a terrific game."

Game notes
Wright's previous multihomer game was Sept. 2, when he hit two against Florida. ... The Mets lead the majors with 37 pinch-hits. ... Braves second baseman Marcus Giles was a late scratch from the lineup with flu-like symptoms. Orr started in his place and went 2-for-4.

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